By Drew Singer
(Reuters) - The trial of two Ohio high school football players charged with raping a 16-year-old girl should be closed to the public to protect the accuser in a case that has received national attention, the state's attorney general said on Thursday.
The case caused a national sensation earlier this month when the hacker activist group Anonymous publicized a picture of two young men carrying the girl by her wrists and ankles and released a video showing other young men joking about the alleged assault.
A defense attorney has also requested that the trial be closed. Both the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the defense have said that the accuser has also made the request.
A hearing on the motions before visiting Hamilton County Judge Tom Lipps is set for Friday in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court. In Ohio, it is easier to close juvenile hearings than adult trials.
Ma'Lik Richmond and Trent Mays, both 16, are to face trial as juveniles next month in Steubenville, a city of 19,000 near the Pennsylvania border. Prosecutors say the two members of the high school football team there had raped a classmate at a party attended by many teammates last August.
Community leaders have criticized authorities, voicing suspicion they have avoided charging more players who could have been involved in order to protect the school's beloved football program.
Reuters is not identifying the accuser because she is a purported victim of sexual assault.
In his filing last week, Richmond's lawyer, Walter Madison, said closing the trial to the public would be the only way to protect witnesses from Anonymous, which has threatened to expose private information of anyone who helps protect his client from prosecution.
Also on Thursday, students from Ohio State University delivered a petition with 70,000 signatures to DeWine's office, demanding that everyone present at the party be charged to the fullest extent of the law.
DeWine met with three of the students in his office, where they discussed the judicial process, spokesman Dan Tierney told Reuters.
Days before testifying against Richmond and Mays, at least three teammates who attended the party received commitments from prosecutors that they would not be prosecuted for any crimes, according to documents Reuters received from a source directly involved in the case.
In letters from DeWine's office addressed to each student's lawyer, the state committed to not prosecuting Evan Westlake, Anthony Craig and Mark Cole, three witnesses for the prosecution.
But DeWine has said that his office had made no deal with any of the witnesses involved in the case. The office has said the investigation is continuing, and that a lack of evidence has prevented prosecutors from bringing more charges.
(Reporting By Drew Singer; Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Greg McCune and Lisa Von Ahn)